Traffic attendants win reinstatement victory

After sixteen weeks struggle and numerous ups and downs, Belfast’s sacked traffic attendants have finally reached an end to what has been a hugely important dispute for both the workers involved and the wider trade union movement. The dispute started at the beginning of April when the traffic attendants were sacked for walking out of work on a half day protest against atrocious working conditions.  Their employer, NSL (formerly NCP), initially responded by offering to enter talks about the issues the workers had raised but instead quickly moved to sack the 26 workers accusing them of taking illegal industrial action. 

This was the first time that this law had been used against any group of workers in Northern Ireland. NSL received a shock when the workers, refusing to lie down and go away, organised and fought back by putting pressure on Northern Ireland Assembly politicians, holding daily protests that became a Belfast landmark (and the location for regular traffic jams outside NSL HQ on Calendar street) and preparing for strike action by their colleagues who remained in work. From the beginning of the campaign the workers vowed that they would only end their campaign when all 26 had been offered reinstatement to their jobs.

The turning point of the campaign was reached at the end of July when the workers, both sacked and those still inside the workplace, met and took the brave decision to begin a ballot for strike action across Belfast. Within days serious talks took place between the workers trade union NIPSA and the employers and a settlement to the dispute was hammered out. Although the details of the agreement reached are confidential what is clear is that the workers have won a huge victory.

Having fought and won this battle the workers have now to set themselves new targets. A strong democratic union for traffic attendants needs to be built across Northern Ireland. The culture of dictatorial management control which included hiring and firing of workers at will and the bullying of staff has to be brought to a halt. In addition they along with the wider trade union movement must fight to bring this service back under public ownership and democratic control. Only then will it be possible to make this the service it should be; one dedicated to the road safety of the public instead of a cash cow for private sector companies.

 

14 August 2009
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